eXtensions - Wednesday 24 November 2021


Wednesday Notes: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

By Graham K. Rogers


Apple to sue the maker of Pegasus spyware. Still waiting for a Monterey update that fixes current problems. DTAC to join True: a marriage made in heaven or hell? The iPhone does handle 5G in Thailand, if you can find it. Updating a home router: from 802.11n to 802.11ax: Wifi6.

Early morning mail led me to a report by Rex Crum on Seeking Alpha concerning Pegasus software from the Israeli company NSO that was installed on a number of smartphones, including iPhones. It initially seemed that this was more of an Apple problem, because the iPhone has better logs than Android, but the messages that helped install this spyware were sent to owners of phones on both platforms. Apple fixed the problem in double quick time when the researchers put out initial information, but are now suing NSO. Later I found several other reports - each with its own take - from Apple-related sources:

That last link includes some useful information that is worth repeating:

The Pegasus spyware came to light after a Washington Post report uncovered a global spyware operation targeting iPhones and Android phones. The investigations, which were conducted in conjunction with nonprofit groups Citizen Lab, Forbidden Stories, Amnesty International, and other human rights groups, found that military grade spyware was used to hack dozens of phones belonging to "journalists, human rights activists, business executives and two women close to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi."

One of the odd things (to me) was that when Apple released its M-series Macs, it was not possible to install Windows on them. This seemed a major drawback. Remember, a few years back Walt Mossberg called the iMac the best Windows PC ever. There is no Bootcamp, and the only way to use Windows on the new Macs is to use Parallels software. It seemed odd, but there was a reason for this: Qualcomm and Microsoft had a deal. Years ago when there were two versions of DOS (MS-DOS and PC-DOS) both would run on the PCs of the time. The arrival of Windows, however, which initially needed DOS to be installed too was restricted only to MS-DOS as a line in the code needed that to be identified specifically.

It appears that there was a secret exclusivity deal between Microsoft and Qualcomm and ARM-based Windows has only been made available on devices with Qualcomm SoCs (Juli Clover, MacRumors). That deal is set to end soon, but it is not known if that will mean Microsoft will produce a version that runs on the new Macs. Someone should sue them: they would if it were Apple.

Apple M1 Series 16" MacBook Pro - Image courtesy of Apple

We are almost a month into Monterey and although versions of the beta 12.1 update have been floating about, there has been (so far) no public release of the update, nor any corrections to the memory leaks which have been found to have at least 4 causes (hoakley, Eclectic Light Company). As far as I am concerned, like many, I have been unable to use a USB-connected webcam for online classes, limiting me to the Mac's own internal camera, which is not really up to par in comparison with what I had been doing. As an aside, the Bluetooth speaker from Bang & Olufsen has not connected since I installed Monterey, but that does work with the other devices I have. Some 4 weeks since these problems were reported and we are still waiting.

At the weekend, local news reported of an impending merger between DTAC and True. I have been with DTAC for over 20 years I think it is, but my experience with True was relatively short-lived and not wholly pleasant. They are no good listeners. On Monday it was reported that the authorities had summoned representatives of both companies, probably to find out if it were about to happen as the government would have the final say, although with True there are other factors to consider.

I immediately began to think about a move to AIS: a company that I had once despised. Recent experience with the broadband at the condos I have lived in since moving out of central Bangkok, have put the company in a different light and I am quite impressed with the service they give. My internet speeds this week have been over 650 upload and download when I am paying for a 500/500 connection. I find I am between the devil and the deep blue sea.

In a parliamentary debate reported Tuesday a comment suggested a negative outcome, with the translation reading,

Dr. Somkiat Tangkitvanich revealed that the merger of True-DTAC's business brings back the Thai mobile phone service to the way it was 20 years ago. Service providers can take advantage of consumers.

That last sentence is significant. Dr Somkiat had just said that "it definitely affects consumers, causing market share to change, reduce the number of competitors causing a concentration in the market". A headline in theBangkok Post, Business section reiterated this: Mobile Merger seen as 'perilous'.

iPhone 13 Following the news about the potential merger of services - a straight share swap we hear - I wondered about the iPhone 13 I have now which shows 4G (or WiFi) but nothing else. I went in to the DTAC shop in Siam Paragon to ask if 5G worked. The helpful assistant asked me about the settings and the eSIM. We looked through all the relevant iPhone settings panels and the young lady was a little perturbed that my iPhone refused to show 5G, even after a restart, followed by a reset of network settings (more on that below).

She decided to consult with the iPhone expert in the store and came back with an iPhone that had a double SIM strength display: there were two cards. I presume this was the eSIM and a physical card. His phone also only displayed 4G although, she said, it normally does show 5G, so she presumed that the signal had faded temporarily. She was right as on the way home on BTS, passing the Erawan Hotel, I saw clearly that my iPhone was using 5G.

That was not the end of things, however. The lady did warn me that 5G is a power monster, and I saw in the settings that Apple also warns about this. I did have one more question for DTAC, which is often considered in 3rd position of the carriers that operate here, and has a smaller customer base. Was the area I live in covered by 5G? The short answer was no: Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Chiangmai. From using the phone on the way home, it may also be that Bangkok coverage may not include large parts of the Thonburi side, so unless I am cavorting with the hi-so elements in Siam and nearby, I am out of luck.

With the network reset on the iPhone, I had to re-enter the WiFi password on the device to access the home network. I did try bringing it close to another, connected device, but that did not want to play so I found the old piece of paper with the details and typed the password in slowly. With the symbols I use it is hard with the iPhone keyboard but easier on the QWERTY keyboards of the other devices, although I have to make sure English is selected and not one of the other languages I have selected.

Netgear, Nighthawk This also prompted me to give some thought to the Netgear WiFi 6 router that I ordered online just before moving to this condo. It has sat on a chest of drawers waiting for me to install it and I have been busy with work for most of the time, with inert gaps in between. I have been using the 3rd generation 802.11n Apple Airport device for over 10 years. My hardware (Macs, iPhones, iPads) all evolved to use 802.11ac, with the latest M1 Mac, M1 iPad Pro, iPad mini and iPhone 13 able to use 802.11ax (WiFi 6). It really was time to update.

I had already downloaded the Netgear app. All that was needed was the motivation to set it all up. Part of the reticence was due to the spaghetti junction of wiring that connected two routers, the AppleTV, a television, and the Phillips Hue bridge. Each of these devices needs power and the wires to connect to the relevant router, but there are only two electric sockets there: power extension devices add more wires and reduce space. Once I had moved the AppleTV box to a space below the TV and stowed some of the wires (power, HDMI), the project looked a little more feasible.

Apple Airport Extreme

I started with the Netgear, Nighthawk app on the iPad Pro which of course only works in portrait mode. Do app designers ever use the devices? Before I could set up the network, I had to register the app, but the password required only accepted a limited character set and there were other requirements. It is easy to see why some use ABC123. To set up the router itself I had to disconnect the devices and start the process, then reconnect. Most of the action happened behind the scenes, with an occasional prompt for data, including a password. This time I was allowed to use a full character set, so made up a really obscure password that I wrote down on a card as I entered each character. The card was then locked away.

The system was soon up and running although a firmware update delayed my use. The password was sent to the other devices, although I am not sure if this was the Apple synchronization or Nighthawk. Initially, I found two Netgear networks, one marked Netgear36-5G. I went back into the Nighthawk app and was able to consolidate the two, which could have been better done in the initial setup. I had to nudge a couple of devices to join the new network, particularly the AppleTV, but even with that the password was entered automatically: recognized as safe devices.

There were two minor problems. The Phillips Hue bridge system was linked (physically) to the AirPort Extreme router; and I wanted to use a different name for the router for personal reasons. Changing Hue light settings for the moment is not difficult, but requires a switch on one of the devices (not the Mac) to the older network. I can then switch back and the new network is available. I will reinstall the Hue system on the Netgear router in a few days. This will also give me some more space behind the television. I can also then turn the router through 90° and avoid the bright lights it displays on the front.

Changing the name of the network was not difficult. It used to be done using browser access on older systems (some still use this), but the Nighthawk app simplifies this once the user has found the specific page that allows this. I took me a couple of seconds to type in the new name, and then there was a delay while the app updated the settings. I also had to go round each device to make sure they were connected. While the settings were being updated, everything had switched to the old network. With a couple of days use, apart from Hue everything is running smoothly.

Netgear wifi6 router

A third problem has also appeared on the Mac. For a number of years it has been possible to see a basic display of devices visible to the Mac using the menu bar icon. Thes display can be enhanced significantly if the Option key is pressed first. I am unsure if this is a new feature of Monterey, or something that has happened when the network was updated, but this enhanced display of data is no longer available. In further testing I may have misremembered the extent of the features; or they are now restricted only to the currently connected network.

By pressing the Option key, then clicking on the WiFi icon in the menu bar, more information about the connection is shown, such as the IP address, some serial numbers useful in diagnosis, and links to Enable wifi logging, Create a diagnostics report, and Open wireless diagnostics. The Option key works with other menu bar items, such as Bluetooth, Time Machine (different options) and the Date. On my Mac this is over on the right and with the Option key, Notifications are displayed in a different way.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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